Fern Gully, Fitzgerald, and Frappuccinos


Years ago, when I first started blogging, I found myself pissing off a handful of people I never intended to piss off, and it surprised me.

I was surprised, in part, because I don’t think I’m all that offensive, in part, because I don’t think a 500-2,000 word blog  post is worth getting worked up over, and, in part, because I doubt I’d be angry if we pulled a Freaky Friday and you were writing about me. It’s a temptation for me to go more in-depth on each of the reasons I don’t understand and didn’t foresee The Anger, but that’s an awful lot like having an argument with someone who’s left the room so I’ll refrain.

Instead, I’m going to try to persuade The Angry to give me back my blog…

For me, this blog and writing in general exist in a separate and imaginary world. Anything the heart experiences is more than admissible in this world; it’s required and respected. The landscape looks like an animated, pre-Pixar Disney film – probably Fern Gully. In this imaginary writing world, J K Rowling grabs coffee with F Scott Fitzgerald to discuss the carelessness of witches and wizards who break things and leave the mess for others to clean up. They set up their coffee couch in the middle of a Fern Gully field. Fitzgerald spikes his coffee, of course, and, while Rowling doesn’t, she thoroughly approves.

Maybe that’s not a great way to describe it. Maybe it’s a barbaric yawp. There’s a poem by William Carlos Williams about dancing naked in front of a mirror while his wife sleeps that I think touches on the freedom I seek in writing. Maybe it’s impossible to paint a picture that displays the beauty, whimsy, thought, humor, and mystery of sitting down and translating thoughts into words. Maybe I can’t help The Angry see what they robbed me of when they limited my writing to the inoffensive…

To write well, I’ve always felt that a person must see and articulate with honesty and without apology. Good writing, to me, prioritizes truth, and truth, even in its most excruciating forms, should be a bridge between people. It should be what C.S. Lewis described as the birth of friendship, “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself.” That birth of friendship is why I read and write… because it’s such a strange and wonderful thing to know that person who is dead or a person who lives across the world or a person who I thought I knew everything about or any person at all is intimately acquainted with a part of life I thought was exclusive to me.

When people are angry with me for my writing, even though I don’t understand how they could be angry… I feel like I have to censor myself or stop writing altogether so that I won’t need to explain and comfort and apologize for my words. I wish in the past I’d taken a harder line with The Angry. I wish I’d protected my imaginary land of Fern Gully, Fitzgerald, and frappuccinos.

This place exists because I wanted to write. It does not exist because a friend or family member said to me, “I want to read,” and I thought, I should write a blog so that _________ can read. Rather, I decided to build myself an imaginary world, where there is no part of myself that is too offensive, too blunt, too honest… and possibly the one place where I could exist as I am without asking for permission.

This has all been churning in my head since I wrote something that didn’t make someone angry.

What I wrote hurled a friend and me into a difficult conversation, but when I offered never to write about that topic again, she said, “I don’t want you to do that. I have no right over your blog. That’s your place.”

I want to write here again. For real. Not for you. For me. It’s cool if you want to read it. It’s also cool if you don’t want to read it. Just please, if you get angry, keep it to yourself and know that whatever I wrote wasn’t about you… I grabbed ahold of something that was troubling in the real world, dragged it to Fern Gully, and sat down to try to sort out our troubles over a cup of spiked coffee.

 

Advertisements

NaNoWriMo 2015


It’s National Novel Writing Month again… and even though I thought I’d be ready to fully participate this year, I’m not, and I’m sad about it.

Re: the manuscript I’ve been working on for ages…

This manuscript is incredibly personal. Everything about it is wrapped up in who I am and what I’ve seen. That’s not to say that it’s autobiographical. It isn’t. However, it is personal, and there’s a vulnerability in writing what I’ve written.

Also, this may not seem like a big deal, but it’s my first full manuscript. I’ve written tons of first chapters but only one final chapter, and that one final chapter is contained in this manuscript. I’ve written short stories and essays galore, I’ve been starting novels since I was fourteen, but I’ve never put much hope in any of them until my current Work in Progress. I’ve never believed anything would ever come of them.

Additionally, this is the only time I’ve written anything near the realm of Christian Fiction. There’s a weighty responsibility that comes with that. I feel an urgent necessity, that I hate feeling, in writing something that glorifies God. I chose Weston, my character, because I couldn’t imagine a more heart-wrenching conflict than the one I’ve seen in my friends who are both gay and Christians. I thought it was good timing historically for a book about that conflict. I thought it would be easy to sell. Yet, now that it comes down to either publishing it or not, I’ve got a slow-growing fear based in all of the things that drew me to this conflict to begin with. I’m afraid of how the nation is changing, and how my friends are changing. I’m afraid of how difficult it seems to be for people like Weston to hold onto convictions and trust that God has it covered, and even if they don’t get what they want, to refuse to bow down to any claiming the place that belongs only to the Almighty.

Piled on top of that fear is the problem I currently have of perspective. I started out trying to write my manuscript in 3rd person, because it’s an impersonal, analytical way of writing that allowed me to think the story instead of feeling it. There’s this strange thing that happens in the writer’s mind, where characters are real. It would be impossible for me to write a great story without suspending my disbelief at least as much as I want my readers to suspend theirs, so Weston is a real person to me. I have emotions towards him that only find their match in my relationships to real people. I feel affection, disappointment, anger, and hope for him and for the other characters in his life – Madison, Riley, Dave… all of them. That’s super difficult, because it’s my job to push these people through to most difficult parts of their lives.

I would prefer to do that in 3rd person, even though that wasn’t the right choice for this story.

Alongside the emotions of it, writing in 1st person has a ton of complications because the story is not about what happened. Rather, it’s about what one person thought happened. A narrator who is living the story is almost never going to be 100% reliable, and my character is particularly unreliable because she’s young, foolish, and confused. She’s emotionally invested to the extent that she can’t see straight. The result of telling the story this way is hours – nay, HOURS and HOURS and HOURS – of trying to figure out how a person can tell a story exactly as she experienced it without communicating only what she experienced. Ideally, Madison would tell her story honestly and without concern for the reader, but I’d be skilled enough to communicate to the reader through Madison – that I’d show bits and pieces that Madi didn’t see, or saw falsely.

It’s painstaking work.

Also, I decided to rewrite the entire ending of my story. I got one of those epiphanies that hit at the strangest times, when the muse speaks, and what needs to be written becomes clear. And yet, it’s a ton of work rewriting the entire ending – especially because I did my best to weave the ending into every chapter of the book so that readers could look back and be all mind-blown at the clues that were there all along.

So… where I find myself now is at the end again, rewriting and trying to be intentional about the level of satisfaction I bring to readers… or not. It would be easy for me to wrap everything up nicely and tie it with a bow for readers. OR it would be easy for me to wrap nothing up and leave readers bewildered to figure it out for themselves. Probably, the right thing to do is somewhere in the middle of those.

Finally, the actual news of this post is that I’ve recently been put in touch with an editor who may actually be able to help me, without costing me a boatload of cash, which means I need to get myself in gear pretty quickly here and not let this opportunity pass.

BUT…

All I want to do is start a brand-new manuscript that I can write in the detached voice of an omniscient 3rd person narrator. I want it to be an absurd dark comedy/social commentary about public education, and I want to be in the planning stage rather than this editing and perfecting stage that I have to be in with Weston’s story.

AaaaaaaHhhhhhhh!

I love NaNoWriMo… next year, I guess.

Don’t Rock the Table!


I had a very writerly moment the other day that sort of cracked me up.

I was at Sbucks. It was in the midst of the road trip. I was in Oceanside, and feeling a little guilty that my experience of the places I’d stayed was so limited to a few hours a day, and I spent the rest of the time doing the things I’d have done at home.

… like the sitting at Sbucks for three hours.

Still, I enjoy sitting at coffee shops. Right now, I’m sitting at a coffee shop. I’ve been here for almost four hours, and it feels like nothing. It feels like it’s still the early morning, even though it’s noon.

That’s how I was feeling in Oceanside. I’d read for about an hour and a half; I’d applied for a job; I’d listened to a podcast.

But then, the lady at the other end of my table started typing. We were sitting at one of those long wooden tables that are all-of-a-sudden very “in” with Sbucks. We were on the same side of the table, but on opposite ends. She had been up and down. She’d even left the store at one point, then returned, and now, she was typing, her weighted fingers hitting each key the way my feet hit the ground twenty miles into a marathon.

Thud. Thud. Thud-thud!

It was enough that it pulled me out of my reading zone, and I had to look at her long and hard. A scene popped into my mind: there’s Sean Connery, screaming out, “Punch the keys, for God’s sake!” For those of you who don’t know, that’s from the film Finding Forrester, which is a terribly underrated film in my opinion. It’s the kind of film that reminds me of the artistry in writing – not just in the words I choose or the flow of thoughts and content on the page. Oh no, it’s far more than that.

Similar to how a good glass of wine consists of good wine, plus – plus the size and shape of the glass, the smell of the wine, the lighting in the room, the cheese or chocolate that’s paired with the wine, the conversation, the perfect chair, the visual of my nail polish and rings as I look at my hands holding the glass, the swirl of the wine in the glass and the legs coating and lingering in spots. Likewise, writing is the words and thoughts, plus. It’s the thickness and texture of the paper (or it’s the weight of the journal and how worn its cover). It’s the flow of the ink or the smell of the pencil. It’s the right amount of background noise. It’s the coffee on the table. It’s the passage of time, unobserved. It’s the sound of the keys. In writing, as in anything, it’s the sum of the parts that makes an elegant writing experience, and the experience matters.

I looked at that lady, thought a loud, “Punch the keys, for God’s sake!” that she didn’t hear or chose to ignore, and then I left Sbucks in a huff, the experience destroyed by someone who misunderstands writing. In retrospect, I’m sad for both of us.

The Tribal Necessity


Soon after being elected to the leadership team of my teacher association, I was sent to Anaheim to learn things about being a leader. Coincidentally, although I’m not sure I believe in true coincidence, Sir Ken Robinson was a keynote speaker at the leadership summit. And, beyond being a man who understands education far better than most of my colleagues or I do, he is a man who understands the human drive to use our lives meaningfully and satisfyingly.

Upon returning home from the summit, I went out and purchased one of Sir Ken Robinson’s books, The Element, which, as the title suggests, is about human beings finding and living in their element. I honestly didn’t buy the book with any plan for it to impact my life. I bought it merely because that’s what I do: I buy books – more books than probably anyone you know. I certainly buy more books than I read, which is one of those quirks transferred to me through genetics or upbringing… or both.

I bought the book, shelved it, and went about my business. At the time, I had no plans of quitting my job for at least a year. My reign as secretary of the teacher association was to last three years, and, though I was skeptical about my ability to endure teaching for that long, I was certain I’d serve at least one year, and I intended to try to make it all three. In three years, I would have invested enough time into teaching to get an increased portion of Arizona State Retirement, so it made sense to serve my whole term.

And yet, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry… I quit my job.

It’s a strange thing to explain to people why I quit, because it wasn’t a decision that I thought and prayed about, the way I think about pray about most life decisions. It was an intuition… sort of. It was a whisper from the Almighty. I’m a firm believer that God often nudges us and we often miss it. Therefore, there is a certain ineffable inkling I get sometimes that I attribute to God. Yes, that’s impressively touchy-feely and not at all practical. However, no amount of reasoning with me will convince me that God hasn’t provided me with moments of intentional, specific revelation, and in those moments, it seems appropriate to always, without question, reason, or delay, do exactly what I believe God has told me to do. I might be wrong… I might be justifying my own desires by attributing them to God, and yet, I hope that anytime you believe God has told you to do something… you will do it.

I wrote my letter of resignation without any sense of what I’d do to make money and pay my mortgage. The people around me expressed enthusiastic envy for my situation, which was humorous to me, because anyone who wants that situation need only walk into his boss’s office and say, “I’m done,” and yet, that’s not what people do.

I finished reading whatever book I was reading at the time, and decided to pull out my Sir Ken Robinson, and have a go at The Element. Beyond the book just being an excellent reminder that people are all unique and fascinating, it was exactly the book I needed to be reading.

As I reflect on my life and what the book has to say in regards to me, I don’t think I became a teacher because I was passionate about it. I think I did it because it was a practical way to be around books and language every day.

Chapter five is the one that brought me to this conclusion. It’s a chapter about finding your tribe. I know it sounds a little alternative and hippyish, but it hit me pretty hard. There are tons of bloggers out there (Seth Godin is one, I think) who deal with the idea of tribe, and it usually goes something like this: a tribe is a group of people who speak the same language, share values and beliefs, defend and nurture one another, and live life together. This idea of tribe is inclusive of families, religions, gangs, etc… One way Robinson describes the tribal sense is, “common commitment to the thing they [tribe members] feel they were born to do.”
I think everyone has felt this sense of tribe at one time or another. I can think of exactly two tribes to which I’ve thoroughly belonged in my life: the softball tribe and the church tribe. Of course, there are sub-tribes (as if that’s even a thing) within each of those tribes, and the feeling of connectedness hasn’t been 100% consistent for me, but when I’m speaking with someone who isn’t a part of the softball tribe, I always find myself trying to explain things that can’t be explained, and it’s that sense of separateness and aloneness that I think frequently leads people to depression. I think we were meant to connect with other human beings in this tribal sense – that a need to understand each other beyond explanation is built into our DNA.

I think I’ve been missing that. After quitting softball, I didn’t feel connected to anyone for quite awhile and I was depressed, and after my church dissolved, it was the same thing, only more intense… that longing for tribe. I wouldn’t have identified that as a root of my depression before, but it became clear to me as I was job searching and reading Robinson’s book.

Now, get ready for another impractical and somewhat impulsive idea. I think I should go back to school and study creative writing. I’ve resisted this idea in the past because I’d probably have to take out student loans in addition to working full-time while going back to school. Additionally, a masters degree in creative writing isn’t the kind of thing that gets a girl jobs. It’s one of those degrees that in many ways seems useless.

And yet, I think my sanity and sense of contentment require it. There is currently only one person who gets my love of story. One. And she’s moved away.

I reserve the right to completely change my mind tomorrow, but, for today, I plan to set myself on a path of MFA in creative writing.

Becoming Good


“…the path to becoming a good writer is no more clear than the path to becoming a good person. We get to each place through trial and error, through staying the course yet digressing down crooked trails, through keeping our eyes open while keeping our guts willing, through not just trying but trying intelligently.”

Rachel Simon The Writer’s Survival Guide Ch. 5